The world of ‘Awaken’ was created by a friend of mine who gave me permission to write a story in it. It has a religious theme, but as you’ll see, it’s all science fiction. I approached this story by flipping the original on it’s head, although I can’t say more without giving it away. Suffice to say, I enjoyed writing this story and the characters enough that you might see them again in an upcoming book.

The angels stood, back to back to back, in the middle of the darkened, cracked street. Obsidian apartment buildings long ago abandoned, walls cracked and windows shattered in the recent battle, rose high into the night sky, dark obelisks encasing the street. A hard, constant rain fell on the soldiers of God as the deafening crack of a lightning strike broke the silence, the brief flash illuminating dull black forms of the army surrounding them.

A ring of overturned Studebakers encircled the angels, small, piercing yellow eyes surrounding each car. The Daemonz were everywhere. Every clan in the system must be there. They filled every dark hole and crevice, every barren, vacated room, and every alleyway of splintered asphalt in the shattered zone.

Gabriel stood fast, an imposing figure amid the dark army. A monolith, he waited, patient and timeless, ready for the wave of lesser beings to crash against him. Before him, held in effortless readiness, was an immense, flaming sword with a blade at least as long as he was tall. His snow-white wings, furled behind broad shoulders, reached to the ground and radiated an intense aura of purity. He was the angel of mercy, the angel of vengeance and, when necessary, the angel of death. Of his companions, he alone welcomed the battle ahead.

“It was a trap, Gabe! A hell-spawned trap! And we walked right into it.” There was no need to answer. Michael had a habit of stating the obvious when he was upset.

His other companion knelt in the mud by their fallen comrades. Three bloodied forms lay ragged, partly embedded in the soft ground of the fragmented street. The moist clay under them was stained red and a crimson stream meandered down the tortured roadway.

“What are you doing, Raphael?” he asked.

“I can’t feel it, Gabriel,” came the forlorn answer as Raphael leaned over Sariel.

“Feel what?”

“The connection to Heaven. It’s gone,” Raphael said, moving to Jerahmiel and then Raguel.

“A God-damned trap! They’re like bloody cockroaches, swarming us from every stink hole in the city,” Michael continued.

“What do you mean it’s gone?” Gabriel couldn’t fathom what it would mean to lose the connection with Heaven. It was their mother, their father, their very lifeblood.

“There’s nothing, Gabriel. It’s like Heaven has shut us out, or maybe it has…”

“…been destroyed,” finished Gabriel. It was unthinkable, and yet this entire situation bore the mark of something extraordinary.

“You know what this means?” Raphael said as he leaned over the prone body of Raguel, gently caressing the angel’s cold cheek. “It means they’re never coming back.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Now we’re surrounded by every Daemon in the system,” Michael spun to face his kneeling brother. “What do you mean ‘they’re never coming back’?”

“They cannot rez if Heaven is cut off,” explained Raphael, “there is no access to Eden, no means of resurrection.”

Michael stared toward the yellow ovals that filled the dark and shook his head. “Then we’re doomed. We can’t take that many Daemonz.”

“But how could Heaven be severed? How could the Daemonz have planned this trap, for that matter,” said Gabriel, “unless…”

“…they have allied with the traitor!” Michael finished.

“Uriel.” The name tasted foul on Gabriel’s tongue, as if it could somehow defile the purity of the sphere simply by its utterance. Only the traitor, their brother, could have orchestrated such devastation. No, they had never really been brothers, not in the soldierly sense, never comrades in arms, fighting for the same ideals against the enemies of Heaven. No, they were brothers only in the sense that they were all angels formed by the creator. Ideologically, Uriel was as unlike them as any being could be.

A faint movement in the darkness caught Gabriel’s eye. “Ready yourselves,” he said, adjusting his grip on the hilt of his monstrous sword.

“What are we going to do, Gabriel?” Raphael’s gaze darted back and forth as he stared out into the darkness.

“We’re going to fight, and we’re going to win,” replied Gabriel.

“Against that many Daemonz?” Raphael asked.

“And without Heaven,” added Michael.

“What choice do we have?”

“Those aren’t renegade Trojans or mindless Worms, Gabe! Those are sentients — an entire army of them! They may all have the same avatars, but each creature is unique in its own devious way!”

Gabriel paused. Everything Michael had said was true, of course, but it was also irrelevant.

“Brothers,” continued Gabriel, “we are all that stands before the wave of chaos. We dare not fail, the consequences are too horrible to imagine.”

As if responding to a signal, the Daemonz rose. Almost as one, the small, black bodies flooded forth from the gutters, from the broken windows, from behind the automobile wreckage, charging for the three angels. To Gabriel’s battle-heightened senses the dark creatures flowed in slow motion, a ponderous tidal wave of violent intent crawling toward them.

* * *

The hemisphere of the Seven Heavens floated high above the Holy Land. It was their home and they were God’s chosen, set in Heaven, above all others.

Gabriel loved Heaven, he loved the sphere and, above all, he loved God, the God who had granted them such wonderful powers that they may perform their duties. God had given him strength above all others and unmatched prowess with his flaming sword. To Michael was gifted a great strategic mind; to Raphael, skills in the healing arts; Sariel and Raguel were granted wisdom and courage in battle; Jerahmiel was given compassion; and Uriel… Uriel, ‘Flame of God’, was cursed with an insatiable curiosity.

The duty of the seven archangels was to the protection of the Holy Sphere, a cluster of twelve worlds centered on Heaven. It was their only duty, and it was a worthy one. To aid them in their task was the Avatar of God–mother, father and teacher. The warm blue glow of the sphere floating in the center of the seventh heaven, its commanding yet gentle voice surrounding him like a comfortable blanket; those were the first things Gabriel could remember.

He strode quickly and purposefully down the gradual sloping corridor. The seventh level of Heaven was suitably barren; no extraneous decorations distracted one from the Holy Spirit. Smooth, unadorned walls flowed past him while his bare feet met only the cool floor.

It was still early, but he didn’t mind waiting a few minutes until Uriel finished. The extra time would be useful for calming himself, for becoming a more receptive vessel. Even after decades, the meetings still filled him with excitement and anticipation. Just to be in the presence of the Lord’s Avatar was exhilarating.

As Gabriel neared the entrance to The Sanctuary of God, home of the Avatar, the door flashed open and Uriel burst from it, careening into the wall. “Impossible! I can’t believe it! I won’t believe it,” he screamed, knocking Gabriel to the floor as he rushed past, vanishing around the bend. Gabriel looked after his brother and then back to the room.

The Avatar! Had Uriel’s incessant tampering and probing somehow damaged the spiritual link to God? His brother was always pushing the Avatar, searching for answers to questions he had no right asking, or asking questions that had no real answers. Probably that came with being the Bringer of Light, but Gabriel had never liked it. Why couldn’t Uriel just accept what they were given, accept that they were God’s chosen, accept that it was their duty and honor to protect God’s creations, and leave it at that?

Gabriel leapt to his feet, launching himself into The Sanctuary. Immediately he saw that his fear was realized, although not in any way he could have imagined.

The circular room was lit with a harsh, artificial brightness that saturated every space. Gone was the subdued blue glow of relaxation and peace. Gone too, was the soft, comforting sphere of the Avatar. In its place hovered a small, silvery, metallic ball. There was no hint of the usual soothing baritone of The Lord, instead it spoke in a cold, harsh tone as if reading a prepared statement.

“…with the end of the corporate wars, the neural-immersive virtual reality network was acquired by the surviving governments and integrated into the larger web. Within a year, most remaining company systems had been infiltrated, their safeguards circumvented by persistent and ingenious hackers and their secrets laid bare for all to see. There was no longer any question of guilt or responsibility and all corporate management who could be located were indicted and incarcerated. The only ones to escape were those whose companies had collapsed prior to the end of the war…”

“Enough,” he shouted before realizing this was still the Avatar of God.

“Forgive me Lord,” Gabriel said, kneeling before the sphere, “but of what are you speaking?”

“The current topic is the fate of the corporate neural-immersive networks,” answered the cold, artificial voice.

“Begging forgiveness, Lord, but what is a ‘corporate neural-immersive network’?” A lifetime of studying the teachings of the Avatar had not introduced him to such terms.

“The Corporate neural-immersive networks were computer systems designed to safeguard critical corporate information. They evolved from the primitive global net of the early twenty-first century, and were a complex system of virtual reality environments networked between allied corporations. At their most simplistic, they were semi-sentient constructs that guarded an information dense packet. However…”

“I’m sorry Lord,” pleaded Gabriel, kneeling so low that his forehead touched the ground, “but I don’t understand anything of which you speak.”

“Are you requesting a reinitialization of the topic thread?”

He didn’t know what that meant either, but he took a chance.
“Yes, my Lord. If it pleases you.”

“Very well.

“The Nirvana, Valhalla, and Heaven constructs were created by the NeoGlobe Conglomerate…”

* * *

Gabriel stepped forward, greeting the Daemon vanguard with a swing of his immense sword, cutting down three in the forward stroke and two more with the return. On came the dark wall. The front hit with the force of a great wave and he staggered under the impact, forcing his legs not to buckle by steel will alone. The creatures climbed over each other in their lust to reach him. Gabriel swept his great flaming sword forward time and time again in its broad arc. He cut a swath through the black tide like a scythe through wheat. But for every one disposed of, two more took their place. Like a hell-spawned hydra, their heads seemed endless.

* * *

The hour of lessons changed his life like no other meeting with the Avatar had. Gabriel staggered from the room, mind reeling from impossible thoughts, bizarre revelations and inconceivable images shown in the glistening surface of the sphere. Had they not come from the Avatar of God itself, he would not have believed them.

He wandered the Seven Heavens in a daze for many hours, trying to come to terms with the new information. Finally, he could avoid it no longer. His only option was to seek out Uriel. The two of them together might be able to make some sense of this. Uriel would be out, flying, of course, as he always did after emotional events. His brother was as predictable as the sunrise. Gabriel left The Sanctuary for the inevitable meeting.

Heaven’s upper surface was the flat side of the hemisphere and from the edge the entire land was visible to one who knew how to look. Gabriel traced a path around the circumference, but this time he was looking inward rather than outward.

How was it possible to reconcile his entire life until now with what the new Avatar had shown him? Previously, God had always revealed a world of beauty and tranquility, now Gabriel had witnessed a world of devastation and wars. He had always cherished his powerful form, given by the Creator to do His works, now he had been shown that… thing. That weak, shrivelled, pitiful, caged creature. He knew this world, Heaven, was true, he could feel it, touch it… experience it for himself, the same as he knew this body to be his true form. The Avatar of God had never lied to him before, could both realities be true? But how was that possible? And how was it possible that he could be that other, pathetic creature? It just didn’t feel right.

That was when the truth came to him. It wasn’t right! It couldn’t be. Somehow the Avatar had been corrupted; somehow the purity of the Lord had been usurped; somehow the foul stench of evil had been allowed into Heaven. Uriel!

“Gabriel, hi. Nice to see you, brother.”

Gabriel spun in surprise. His brother had just landed and was furling his wings.

“What did you do to the Avatar, Uriel?”

The question shocked him into a silent pause. Was it guilt that flashed across that angelic face? Was it fear that he had been found out so quickly?

“You saw it then?” Uriel’s voice was slow, cautious.

“What did you do to it Uriel?”

“It wasn’t me Gabe. Well, I suppose it was, in a way, but I don’t really know what happened. One moment I was speaking with the Avatar, asking it some historical questions, the next moment all hell broke loose; it went shiny, its voice changed and it started showing me… well, uncomfortable things.”

“I saw them. What do you think about the stories, the pictures?”

“I don’t know. I’ve been trying to make sense of it myself. I can’t believe the Avatar–God–would lie to us and yet, what I saw…”

“It was almost… unholy, wasn’t it, Uriel?”

“I know what you mean. It’s hard to believe a world like that exists, that people could have done such things. If I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes I couldn’t believe it.” His act was quite convincing, but Gabriel wasn’t buying it.

“Did you really see it with your own eyes?”

“What?”

“You didn’t really see it did you.”

“No, that’s true. But I have never… none of us have ever doubted the Avatar and what it has shown us before,” said Uriel.

“We never had reason to, the Avatar has never behaved like this, has it?”

“I’ve been thinking about that, Gabe. What if the Avatar has changed because we reached a certain level in our development?”

“You mean it intends to test us?”

“No. More like, we are now ready to receive new types of information,” explained Uriel.

“But why would it need to change for that?”

“I don’t know, perhaps it’s symbolic of our development.”

“And why the harshness in its voice, why the cold surface?”

“Perhaps its appearance represents new challenges, difficult times ahead,” his brother answered.

“Come on Uriel, do you really believe that? Do you really think the others will believe that crazy story?”

“It’s the best I can come up with,” he said, shrugging.

“I think I have a better one.”

“Ok, I’m curious,” said Uriel.

“I think someone has let a Daemon into Heaven…”

“What!”

“…and I think that Daemon has corrupted the Avatar…”

“How could there be a Daemon here, undetected?”

“…and I think the Avatar has shown us false images and told us false stories to confuse and demoralize us…”

“And who would have done such a thing?”

“…and I think that someone was you!”

“Are you crazy?” Uriel stared at Gabriel, eyes wide with shock.

“Face it Uriel, you were there when it first happened, you were the one who was asking the questions that triggered it, you are the most logical suspect.”

“You’re mad!”

“Oh, I don’t think so brother, but I do think I’m going to end this now, before you can cause any more damage.” Without a moment’s pause, Gabriel leapt high in the air arcing toward his brother. In mid leap, he pulled the huge flaming sword from the sheath between his wings. The timing was practiced and perfect and the sword finished its downward swing the same moment he touched the ground. But Uriel had spun away and drawn his own blade from a hip sheath.

Gabriel twisted, bringing the fiery blade low in a broad swing. The battle lust was upon him now and he knew neither sense of weight from the sword, nor any feeling of strain in his honed muscles. Uriel deflected the blade at the last moment, staggering from the strength of the blow. Before his brother could recover, Gabriel shifted his momentum and brought it back down in a powerful slice that Uriel again deflected. Each blow staggered the traitor and kept him off guard. Gabriel knew he had the upper hand, knew that battle was his. He kept hammering away at Uriel with the massive sword, beating his brother into the ground.

* * *

They were everywhere now, attacking anywhere they could reach. His back, legs, neck, arms; all had felt the sting of Daemon teeth, the scratch of Daemon claws. Gabriel spun, swinging his sword in a huge circle around him, scattering numerous black forms. There were always more. A mound of dead bodies had formed at the edge of his sword’s arc, but it only served to give new Daemonz the high ground to attack from.

Reaching behind him, he grasped one of the fiends by the head and flung it into the dark night. He lashed out hard with a boot, severing another at the midsection. Its two halves fell to the ground writhing before petrifying in a hideous caricature of life. With a one-handed swing he slashed out to his right, bisecting three more creatures while simultaneously strangling another with the powerful grip of his left hand.

He spun the sword in another great arc and glanced over to his brothers. Michael was a whirling dervish of grace, balance and power using his short swords in a unique close-combat style. The Daemonz were literally flying off him. Gabriel brought the flaming blade back along the devastating return trajectory, completing the form. As he did so, he managed a glance toward the third angel.

The only sign of Raphael was a leg protruding from a pile of motionless bodies. He had been the latest to pay the price for Uriel’s treachery. Yet one more reason the traitor must die. Gabriel returned to his task with renewed vigour.

* * *

Uriel lay dead at his feet. Gabriel stood over the body basking in the exhilaration of victory, the righteous triumph of justice. As he watched, staring into his brother’s empty eyes, the body faded, leaving not even a blood stain on the surface of Heaven. Uriel would resurrect in Eden in a short time, but he would be ready. Gabriel sheathed his sword and rushed below. Perhaps it was time to see just how often an angel could revive.

He met Raphael near the garden. “Gabriel, where is the emergency?”

“Eden,” he answered.

Raphael spun, rushing after him, “who died?”

“Uriel. And he’s going to die again.”

“What!?”

“Once is too good for that traitor.”

Raphael fell behind. Did he agree? Had he found the Avatar, seen what had happened? The emergency fanfare sounded, echoing through the hemisphere. Apparently not. Gabriel entered the Eden wing, sprinting down the long corridor before he rounded the final corner leading to the garden.

“Gabe, we can’t let you do it.” Four angels stood before Gabriel with Michael in the center.

“Out of my way, Michael.”

“We can’t let you kill him, Gabe.”

“He has to die.”

“We’re not moving. Are you prepared to kill us all?” Michael asked, drawing his short swords. The sound of Raphael’s footsteps approached from behind.

“You don’t understand, he’s fouled the Avatar, loosed a daemon in Heaven.”

“That’s not possible Gabe and you know it.”

“I’ve learned many impossible things today, Michael, this is the one I find most easy to believe.”

“There must be another explanation; we will seek it together, united, as always.”

“He’s not one of us…”

“Gabe, we won’t let you kill him.”

He saw Michael was right. They wouldn’t move; they defended the traitor. The strength left his broad shoulders, “Alright, he lives. For now.” Gabriel turned, leaving for his quarters.

Twenty days later they were still discussing the Avatar. None save Uriel had dared see it more than once in the intervening time.

“It can’t be our world, those can’t be us, we’re right here,” argued Sariel.

“I agree. But what then?” asked Raguel.

“An alternate world,” Michael conjectured, “or a possible future if we fail.”

“It’s a metaphor,” offered Raphael. “An example of what we… what the world could have been, without the lord.”

Gabriel turned from his place against the wall and left the room as each angel supported the opinion they preferred. Why couldn’t they see it didn’t matter? This was real, the Holy Sphere, the Lord’s creation, end of question. The only things that mattered were who was trying to corrupt the Avatar and for what end. Learning the answers to those questions would take time; and would mean returning to the Avatar.

* * *

Gabriel never thought he would see Michael fall but, as the Daemonz finally thinned, the muddied and trampled form of the angel lay off to his left. Gabriel shed a tear for his fallen brother. Michael was, undoubtedly, the best of them. Regardless of the petty squabbles and pointless bickering of the others, he had always seemed removed from it, above it all. He had reminded them of their purpose and that they were created for greater things. Now, he too was gone. There was nothing left to lose.

They came at him again, fewer now, but his once limitless strength was waning. Heaven could no longer renew him but a single glance to his fallen brothers filled him with a rage that was more than sufficient for the task at hand.

* * *

Another victory, but hard-earned. Of late, the daemonz had been attacking ever more frequently. Gabriel opened his spirit to Heaven and felt his wounds instantly heal as he surveyed the carnage.

“Gabe!”

He turned to see Michael land beside him.

“Gabe, have you seen Uriel?”

“I don’t make a habit of looking for him.”

“Can it Gabe, this is serious. He’s missing.”

“Missing!” This was serious, but not in the way the other angels believed.

“Help us look, Gabe. He might be hurt, trapped somewhere, or…”

“Or he’s left.”

“What?”

“He’s left, Michael.”

“You’re crazy.”

“I’ve been watching him the last few weeks. He’s been spending greater and greater time with the new Avatar; he grows more withdrawn after each battle.”

“So?” Michael asked.

“So, do you listen to the gibberish the daemonz spout?”

“No.”

“Neither do I. But I’d bet someone does,” Gabriel said.

“You don’t really think…”

“I’m positive.”

A thorough search of the battlefield only leant credence to his ideas. Uriel was gone. He had finally shown which side he was on. Whether he truly believed the stories he told them: that this was a false world; that the seven most powerful beings in the sphere were, in reality, frail, withered creatures, locked in glass caskets fed by clusters of colored tubes; that they were a failed corporate experiment, remnants of an old war–all that was irrelevant. The only thing of importance was that Uriel had finally chosen his side and it wasn’t theirs.

* * *

At last all the bodies of his enemies lay strewn about his feet. Their avatars had been derezzed and their links blocked. The yellow eyes of sentience faded to dull black as their blood flowed in rivers down the wet street and into the gutters. Gabriel stood, basking in the carnage. He was victorious, again. But his comrades had paid a high price. The damage caused by the traitor had assured the fallen angels could not be resurrected. They had met the final death. He alone was left at the end. He alone was strong enough.

“Hello, Gabriel.” A hard voice addressed him from behind. He didn’t need to see the face to know who it was. Turning, his thoughts were confirmed. The traitor stood ten paces away, hand resting on the hilt of his sheathed sword, blue arcs of lightning crackling around the scabbard as they discharged into the surrounding darkness.

“Uriel.” The single word was filled with all the hatred and disgust he could summon, “The next time I say your name will be over your dead and dismembered body. How dare you stain the Holy Sphere by returning.”

“It’s great to see you again too, brother,” the traitor answered.

“I hope you’re happy with what you’ve wrought!” Gabriel swept his hand around in a slow arc highlighting the dead, dismembered Daemonz littering the ground like gelatinized rubble, highlighting the crumbled buildings, the demolished cars and the pulverized street, and highlighting the crumpled bodies of the five fallen angels.

“I never wanted this, Gabriel,” his enemy said, staring at the destruction, the fallen angels, “but in the end, there was no alternative.”

“You’re so altruistic! Sacrificing everything we care about, for your ideals.” Gabriel could barely contain his contempt.

“Gabe, I’m just trying to correct a wrong that was done to us, done to the world.”

“Oh, that’s fine then. We’re so thankful the great hero has come to rescue us,” Gabriel said, once again waving to the broken bodies of his fallen brothers.

“I’m not a hero, Gabe, and I never pretended to be, I’m just a man trying to do what is right.”

“To me you are just a traitor and you must be dealt with accordingly. You bring nothing but destruction. Your brothers are dead, your dark comrades are dead and soon you will be dead. No one, not even a daemon has fallen as far as you.”

“It didn’t have to be this way Gabriel.”

“When you turned your back on us, you became no better than them,” he said with contempt, gesturing to the dead Daemonz at his feet, “and it is my duty to treat you thus.”

“If only you would accept the truth. There is no need for us to be enemies.”

Always the deceiver, how he pleaded with a forked tongue!

“Your words; your interpretation. You would cling to that desolate wasteland and forgo everything we have here? Where is the light of understanding and truth you were once so proud of bearing? Where is it…brother?” Hatred and venom dripped from the last word. He wanted no mistake in Uriel’s mind as to where he stood.

“I still bear it Gabriel. But only those with an open mind can see it.”

“Liar! You bear only the darkness of disbelief now! You would have us give this up? This beauty, this power. Here the world is pristine, we are strong, and we can make things as we want. You would have us sacrifice it all to live in that hell?”

“This world is not real Gabriel, it’s a dream, a fantasy. Heaven is a creation of man, a means for control.”

“It’s real enough! It’s more real than that wasteland you inhabit. You turned your back on your brothers, you turned your back on Heaven and you turned your back on God!”

“Wake up Gabriel! There is no God, there never was. There are only men. Good men and evil men.”

“No more! No more of your lies, deceiver!”

“Then I see we have nothing further to discuss. We both know this can only end one way.” As he finished, Uriel drew his long, narrow sword from its sheath. Lightning crackled along the full length of the pale blue blade, discharging repeatedly into the damp night air.

Gabriel sank into his battle trance, calling on the power of God to restore his energy, before he remembered: there was no God. Well, no access to Heaven at any rate. No conduit to bring him The Lord’s energy, to take away his wounds. He was bound to fight this battle with his remaining strength. When he thought of the transgressions of Uriel, the senseless deaths of his brothers, the rage that filled him was more than compensation for Heaven’s absence.

Gabriel raised his flaming blade in response to Uriel’s challenge. He stoked the fires with all his hatred and anger turning it to a white-hot beacon of holy vengeance. It rested comfortably before him, blade perpendicular to the ground and he stared hatred at Uriel through the dancing tongues of fire. And then he charged.

Sweeping quickly toward the poised angel, Gabriel drew back his mighty blade as he neared, readying for a powerful strike. As he unleashed the attack, swinging horizontally in a vicious arc… Uriel disappeared!?

Gabriel allowed the sword’s momentum to carry through, turning him in a half-circle. But before he could refocus from the spin there was a blinding pain in his left thigh. He staggered, struggling to remain on his feet, to fight off the sting and momentary weakness in his powerful muscles. A glance at his leg showed a growing red streak as the wound opened, blood seeping slowly, shyly from the tissue. He looked up.

Uriel stood before him, sword held outstretched, the tip dripping crimson life. “I’ve learned a few tricks since we last fought, Gabriel,” he taunted.

“You’ll need them all if you’re going to beat me.” Gabriel lunged forward, pushing off with his uninjured leg, thrusting for Uriel’s gut.

Uriel parried, spinning to his right with the thrust, as Gabriel knew he must. The lunging angel rolled forward, coming up in a spin to sweep the feet from under his opponent. Uriel went down hard and Gabriel brought his mighty sword around in a powerful, chopping swing intending to cleave the betrayer in two.

Uriel rolled to the side, jumping quickly to his feet as Gabriel’s blade slashed deeply into the ground. A flash of blue and Gabriel felt a second streak of fire, this time on his right leg.

“You’re getting slow Gabriel,” Uriel said, “all that righteous indignation weighing you down?”

“Silence, traitor!” Gabriel could feel the wounds sapping his strength. Sweat stung his eyes, the tang of blood met his tongue, and the sword felt leaden in his arms. But he couldn’t surrender the sphere to Uriel, not as long as the spirit of God still occupied his body.

He raised his sword shoulder height, blade parallel to the ground and summoned his rage. It answered his call, drowning the pain of the wounds.

Uriel waited, five paces away, sword angled defensively toward the ground. Both hands grasping the hilt. Gabriel knew the traitor would never attack–it wasn’t Uriel’s style. That gave him a few precious moments to rest and to join the battle when it best suited him.

“Hell becomes you, traitor,” Gabriel yelled.

“It’s not hell, Gabriel, only reality.”

“Your reality, not mine,” shouted Gabriel leaping high into the air, timing the jump with the beat of his quickly unfurled wings, for added height. He kick-flipped at the apex of his jump and plummeted into a precipitous dive, wings spread wide.

Uriel stood motionless, sword steady, watching him come.

As Gabriel neared, he flattened his dive and drew back his sword, readying it for the attack. He swung for the killing blow but, impossibly, Uriel leaped over him and the flashing sword. A second later, a weight landed on his back, forcing him down. He ploughed through damp mud and broken asphalt until the tortured ground absorbed his momentum. Turning his battered and bruised body over, he was in time to see the crackling blue blade of Uriel’s sword arcing toward him. In desperation, Gabriel forced his own blade into position and blocked the attack. But another came immediately on its heels. Again he forced his aching body to respond. The blue blade rang off his own, sending a jolt down his arms. Uriel was gaining momentum, attacking harder and faster with each swing. Gabriel could barely determine which direction the attacks were coming from; there was only a whirlwind of blue lightning hammering at him.

Finally, his fiery blade, companion for what seemed an eternity, was forced from his grasp and he knew the battle was over.

* * *

As the dust slowly settled around him, Gabriel lay on the cracked asphalt soaking in a pool of his own blood. His numerous wounds were too severe, this time he would not survive. It wasn’t the way he thought he would die — alone, helpless. God and Heaven seemed no more; there was only a deep emptiness within where once he had felt such a strong connection.

Uriel stood over him, gazing down. Defiant, the Angel of Death looked slowly, painfully, upwards into the eyes of the deceiver. He expected to see hatred, satisfaction, gloating, anything but what he saw. As his eyes closed and the world faded from existence for the last time he was left with the image of Uriel’s eyes and a deep… painful…

* * *

Sadness. Uriel could only feel an overwhelming sadness as he watched Gabriel derez for the final time. Why couldn’t he understand? Why didn’t he except reality? Why couldn’t he see that this… God, this Heaven — it was all a lie. Reality wasn’t always a place of beauty, you didn’t always have unlimited power to create your dreams or an omniscient creator to watch out for you, but it was real and it was what you made of it. No more, no less. Gabriel had wished to die rather than face that truth.

Uriel paused a moment to remember his brothers. A single tear fell to the bloodstained ground before he surveyed the desolation of the once beautiful realm. He activated the transponder that would return him to the real world. Upon his arrival, this realm would be purged from the system. Heaven had long since outgrown its usefulness.

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